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Queensland opens up pubs as NSW just tries to re-open schools

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As the NSW lockdown continues, Year 12 exams have been pushed back to November and students will start going back to school on October 25 – provided staff are vaccinated.

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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today reported another 882 cases of COVID-19, and two more deaths, as the virus continues to spread in Sydney and in regional areas including Dubbo.

While the state-wide lockdown continues, Berejiklian continues to talk up the vaccination rollout – another 143,000 doses were administered yesterday – in hope it will allow restrictions to be eased.

She said Year 12 HSC exams would still have to be pushed back to November – marking will be done in January so universities will have to be flexible with admissions – but face-to-face learning should return from October 25.

“We know what a difficult period of time this is,” Berejiklian said.

If any regions emerge from lockdown before then, students in those areas will be able to return to school sooner, and all staff are being encouraged to be vaccinated by November 8 to reduce the risks in doing so.

The push to vaccinate staff comes as the expert advisory group ATAGI recommends 12-15-year-olds also be given access to vaccines.

In Queensland’s recent Indooroopilly outbreak, the Delta variant spread through several Brisbane schools, and an infectious diseases modelling expert who advises Queensland this week said protecting adolescents was the key to controlling COVID-19 without the need for harsh lockdowns.

Berejiklian today called on people in Tamworth to get tested for COVID-19 after sewage testing found viral fragments, which has raised concerns in Queensland that the virus is still creeping north.

Tough border measures remain in place but the NSW Government has agreed to revisit a Queensland proposal to move the Gold Coast border further south to limit community dislocation and assist with traffic enforcement.

Given the ongoing threat from NSW, masks remain mandatory under certain circumstances in Queensland – including in high schools – but Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today announced various social distancing restrictions would be eased.

“We are going to be easing our restrictions even more,” Palaszczuk announced at a press conference in the Regatta Hotel.

From 4pm today, people will be allowed up to 100 people in their own home, 200 people at weddings and funerals, dancing in licensed venues and more patrons in bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants.

In stark contrast to the situation across the border, Queensland today reported no locally-acquired cases of COVID-19, and one case in hotel quarantine. Victoria, meanwhile, reported 79 local cases and the ACT 21 cases.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said Queensland was “back to having some of the lowest restrictions in the country right now thanks to everyone’s great work”.

The announcement came ahead of a National Cabinet meeting where the Doherty Institute will give an update on its modelling, amid a discussion about triggers for lockdowns, restrictions, exemptions and open borders.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also foreshadowed talks about bolstering the health system to cope with an inevitable influx in cases.

Queensland has been charting a different course to the rest of Australia, not only in terms of daily case numbers and lockdowns, but border restrictions and plans for the future.

While Palaszczuk is hesitant to open up to NSW once it reaches the proposed threshold of 70-80 per cent vaccination coverage – Queensland is still lagging behind – her decision this week to change quarantine arrangements creates even further uncertainty.

The Commonwealth has vowed to build a 1,000 bed quarantine facility at Meeandah in Pinkenba, next to Brisbane Airport, on contaminated land at Damascus Barracks. The issues with the site threaten the $200 million budget and mid-2022 timeframe, but the Commonwealth has no other plans in Queensland. It has contracted AECOM and Multiplex to deliver the facility and two similar projects in other states.

However, the Palaszczuk Government on Thursday announced it was backing a privately-built quarantine facility next to Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba. The Commonwealth had already declined to upgrade the airport to welcome international passenger flights, so travellers may instead be taken there by bus from Brisbane – and return via ambulance or helicopter if they test positive to COVID-19.

The Commonwealth had made proximity to an international airport and tertiary hospitals a prerequisite for its support.

Palaszczuk did not alert Morrison or Toowoomba Regional Council Mayor Paul Antonio to her decision to forge ahead. That is despite Coalition and local opposition to the project, which was first floated last year.

In response to a petition from opponents, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath had previously insisted any such project was “dependent on operational support from the Australian Government and agreement from local, government and industry stakeholders, along with consideration of local operational issues”.

The Wellcamp announcement came a day after the Palaszczuk Government put a two-week ‘pause’ on most interstate arrivals to hotel quarantine.

With border restrictions funnelling more travellers into hotel quarantine, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had expressed concern that new hotels and staff were having to be brought into the system at short notice.

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